Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mental Health Discussions: What Can a Minister Do?

Recently, the amazing Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery posted this to her Facebook page:

"Dear All The People,

Please, if possible- this:

Before doling out advice about medication for the mentally ill, pause to ask yourself these quick questions: 1. Am I a doctor? 2. Am I the doctor of THIS person I'm talking to?

If the answers are yes- by all means - carry on! If not, shhhh.

Also just a gentle and loving reminder to the pastors and religious leaders. Pastors (along with druggies and drunks and depressives) are MY PEEPS. LOVE YOU. But listen - if you are a pastor, you don't actually count as a doctor. Pastor and doctor are, like, two totally different careers. Different colleges and such. So- maybe no medical advice, please. Out of gratitude- I promise not ask my doc for communion.

Jesus loves Me This I Know, For He Gave Me Lexapro.


As always, she gets right to the point and has great humor. I think she is fantastic and her book is a good dose of inspiration, humor, and is a great read for a spiritual practice. I even wrote a blog post for her Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project

I totally agree with her. Ministers should not give out unsolicited medical advice about medication. From reading the comments, it seems like what most people with mental illness get from ministers, is the belief that mental illness is not a true illness and you can just pray it away. I don't agree with that. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, belief in evil spirits as a cause of illness, medical cures through only a belief in Jesus, and prayer as a sole medical intervention, are just not things that are part of my theology. We understand the body, mind, and spirit connection, and we value the combination of science and religion. 

On the opposite side of what it seems like Glennon and some of her readers with mental illness have experienced, I more often get ministers telling me I have to take medication. I have been told it is morally wrong not to take medication. I have also been told that if I don't take medication I must not really have a chemical imbalance, not a "real mental illness." As if treating it only with medication is the thing that proves you have mental illness. (You might want to tell my many psychiatrists who diagnosed me that information, because they might need to know they, apparently, should to go back to medical school.) 

While I agree with Glennon, I want to be clear that I do not think ministers are unable to give counsel about mental illness. I don't think that was what she was saying in her post at all anyway, but many of her readers took it that way. Medical advice would be what medicines to take, shock therapy or not, and such treatment that a psychiatrist would give. However, people contact me all the time about mental illness and treatment because I talk about my mental illness publicly. I always say that each individual needs their own treatment team. That could be just a therapist and Psychiatrist, or include also a minister, spiritual advisor, nutritionist, etc... 

I do believe mental illness, like all illnesses, has physical and spiritual components to it. Please read this blog post for more explanation of what I mean.

Rev. Katie Norris. Copyright.

I don't want ministers to get the idea that we can not tell our own stories if we have mental illness. I also don't want people to think that ministers have no place in a mental health treatment plan, because they can. We just need to know boundaries. 

As a minister, I can give counsel about ideas for spiritual practice that can support treatment. I can be a pastoral ear and listen to the pain that most people in the world are unwilling to listen to. I can help families communicate better. I can advocate for a better understanding of mental illness, and help churches create a stigma-free environment. I can be the minister to officiate a funeral and walk a family through a death by suicide. I also can be a part of a person's mental health team. Many doctors and therapists suggest spiritual practices, like meditation, as part of a treatment plan. Which means that it also should not be assumed that doctors know nothing about spirituality and can not advise to bring that into a treatment plan.    

I can also tell my own story, which is not giving medical advice, but does let other people know more about different treatment options. Just like Glennon writes about her medication, I can write about my spiritual practice, sleep schedule, diet, and exercise which all help treat my mental illness. There is sadly not enough information about the varieties of types of treatment and the many, many things a good treatment plan needs. That is why we need more people with mental illness sharing their story about what manages their illness. When I read that someone else uses a mood tracking app to help manage their bipolar disorder, I might want to ask my doctors if I should add this into my treatment plan. 

Everyone needs their own mental health team, of their choosing. Unless you are on that team and have been asked for advice, don't give it. If you are someone with mental illness, don't change your treatment plan on your own based on what someone outside of your team tells you or what you read on the internet. Make decisions with your mental health team. 


Rev. Katie

UPDATE: Here is Glennon's Facebook response the day after the post above. See how great she is?:

"Yesterday, there were folks upset with me for telling depressives to “take their goddamn meds.” I was pissed that they were pissed. But I slept on it. And when I woke up, I had a softer heart about all of that. My friend Nadia Bolz-Weber calls this a heart transplant: when your heart of stone gets ripped out and replaced with a softer, open one. I think if we are not having heart transplants daily, we are really missing out. So anyway- I understand. It’s all confusing and murky. I know that we all want the best for each other. I believe that even more strongly in the wake of all the passion this week.

I’ve got some mental illness issues and chronic Lyme disease, and so my relationship with meds/no meds is windy and twisty and hurty. I haven’t been on any meds for a year now. I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful that I had the meds when I needed them- they felt like a lifeboat for me. I’m insanely grateful to know that they are available if and when I’m in desperate need for a lifeboat again. And I just want other drowning people to feel less shame for climbing in whatever life boat is available. The fact is that I don’t write about all of this because I love meds. I write about all of this because I love people. And I love the lifeboats that save them. But I don’t have any freaking clue what you should do. I just want you to be okay. I just don’t want any of us to drown.

It’s been a tough freaking week. Just a TOUGH one all around. I feel rubbed raw. Do you? When I turned on the news before bed and saw the Ferguson crisis I just thought: the whole world needs a lifeboat. I guess we do, and I guess that lifeboat is love and forgiveness and grace- in all of its million forms. I don’t want to put anything out into the world today except for love and forgiveness and grace. I really love this ragamuffin crew. You are my lifeboat, too. Thanks for floating and bumping along with me.

Love, G"

No comments:

Post a Comment